Week of May 15

The True Power Behind Effective Prayer

Read: 1 Chronicles 22-24; 1 Thessalonians 3

“Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”
1 Thessalonians 3:11-13, ESV


Some of the most underused time in the life of a church inevitably involves prayer. There, I have exposed the elephant in the church chapel! We all know that prayer is important, but we often do not know how to revitalize the life of our churches through our prayer meetings.

Well, I have heard of “whisper prayers” in my prayer experience, the meaning of which is obvious, but Paul teaches us what I will term “wish-praying” in our focal passage. This expression means that for this intercessory prayer he used Greek “optative” verbs. This type of verb expresses a wish or a desire (NAC). The great missionary provides us today with an extraordinary prayer of blessing that serves as an example for “how” we may reinvigorate our prayers for one another.

Understanding the Bible Context

Learning a critical truth about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit
Let’s center ourselves in the overall theology of the letter. Paul has written the letter about salvation, Christ, and the Lord’s return. Notice the Trinitarian elements throughout the letter. There is one true living God (1:9), who loves humankind (1:4), and has revealed Himself to them (2:13). His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (1:3, 8, 10), died and rose again (4:14), for our salvation (5:9). The Holy Spirit gives us joy, provides authoritative truth, and prophetic wisdom (1:6; 4:8; 5:19; HCBC). Look now at the content of the prayer in our focal verses. Paul sees the unity in the Trinity!

He connects God the Father with the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit as one. For you theological folks who read this, Paul was certainly not guilty of modalism (cf. 2 Peter 1:11; 22:20; 3:18)! “Modalism” would surface later in the late second and early third centuries and was judged to be an early church heresy. Here is the heresy in brief: the One God reveals Himself in three ways, or modes, at different times, like an actor who plays three roles in a movie (yet cf. Mark 1:9-11). Millard Erickson adds clarity to the false doctrine when he writes, “The terms (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) do not stand for real distinctions, but are merely names that are appropriate and applicable at different times. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are identical—they are successive revelations of the same person” (Erickson, Christian Theology, 360). Here is the point: If we deny the Trinity, then we lose the biblical Christ!
The fullness of God empowers our prayers
Do you sometimes pray thin prayers? You use names like God, Heavenly Father, Jesus, Lord, and Spirit, but do not consider the depth of meaning in those mighty names. We, for example, often fail to fix our gaze upon the Creator when we pray. The one who spoke and fashioned the world and the one who penetrated to the very heart of evil and conquered it on a cross. Paul prays that this powerful God would make a direct path for him to come to them. Wow! He knew that only one person, God, was absolutely able to speak and cause something to happen (read now, Genesis 9:11; 1 Peter 3:19-20). Invigorate your prayers, by calling on the name of this God.

Secondly, when we pray, we are to ask God to cause our love for one another to grow (3:12). More than grow, he wishes that their love for one another would super-abound (ATR). In other words, he wished for the Thessalonians to show a love that literally spilled over the top of the church house, so to speak. Now, ponder the infinite number of petty differences among church folks. These people will spend their time poking pinholes in the reservoir of love. This type of prayer plugs these holes and enables the love of Christ to wash over all who are assembled. When was the last time that our prayer meetings included time to pray for love to overflow?

Where is the prayer going? Too often our prayer meetings have no goal in mind other than to dismiss in enough time so choir members are not late to rehearsal. OK, I am poking a bit in a lighthearted way, but there is truth in my humor. Paul prays, instead, to the end that the church’s heart would be established in sanctity (i.e., “blameless”). He uses a very clear construction that indicates sincere purpose (3:13). We do not all read Greek, but verse 13 is a part of verse 12. We must maintain the grammatical connection, or we will miss the point: “blameless sanctified hearts can only grow and bloom in the soil of genuine and abundant love” (NAC). We need to rehearse this truth until we have completely put it to heart and practice. We should have a unified purpose in our hearts that the prayer list of names before us will be filled with the Spirit of Christ to lead holy lives.

Applying the Passage to Our Lives

Our youth minister, when I was a teen, had trained a group of young men to share their faith and preach. I was one of the group members, and we often led weekend youth revivals throughout the state and beyond. On one particular trip, our team of four young men stopped at a highway diner for breakfast. We bowed our heads for prayer and the leader of the group began to pray. He prayed and prayed and prayed and . . . you get the idea. I finally opened one eye and he was still going strong. I looked at his meal, and it was a honeybun. I thought, “What?! How much thanks does a honeybun require?” My spiritual immaturity then gives me the opportunity now to offer a spiritual thought.

Here is something for us to consider. Christ prayed before every significant ministry event and whenever temptation was at its greatest. He prayed when the crowds sought to make Him king (John 6:15; Matthew 14:22-23), He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane prior to the crucifixion (Matthew 26:36-46, esp. 41; cf. Matthew 4:8-10), and He prayed in dependence upon the God who cares and feeds His people (John 6:11; cf. Matthew 4:3-4). He called on God the Creator, His Heavenly Father, and we should follow His example whenever we pray!

Reflecting Upon and Discussing the Passage

1. Who is on your “wish list” for prayer? We all have personal wish lists for our birthdays and Christmas, but it would be most useful to build a prayer wish list for others.

2. Sadly, the church often talks more about prayer than putting it into practice. A powerful way to pray purposefully begins with desiring for the love of Christ to pour over the top of your church fellowship so that people would lead holy lives. Embark on this prayer journey.

3. For Families: Building upon the Five Finger Prayer we learned yesterday on 13 May, today we might add something to that prayer model from our passage above. Once your child has prayed through her five fingers, you might encourage her to ponder for a moment how she can show love to one of the people on her prayer list.

Can she bring an apple for the teacher? Share toys with a sister or brother? Write a letter to the neighborhood policeman or school cross-guard? Draw the pastor or Sunday School teacher a picture of a favorite Bible story? There are many ways to show Christ’s love for other believers and people in the community. Encourage your child to pray, and then to put love into action. This is the way Jesus loves!

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock